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Trump Leverages a Windfall: His Kids

Margaret Carlson is a Bloomberg View columnist. She was a White House correspondent for Time, a weekly panelist on CNN’s “Capital Gang” and an editor at the New Republic.
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The Republican National Convention in Cleveland last week was a pudding without a theme, except for one mantra that tumbled out of the mouths of every Republican from top to bottom. If you say that you’re worried about Trump’s impulsive temperament or substance or motivation for running, the reflexive justification given to trust him with the nuclear codes is that “he raised great kids.”

There was a time in American politics when talking about a candidate's kids, even adult ones, was considered bad form. Trump has made it impossible not to talk about his. One of the motifs of his candidacy, promulgated in every corner of Trumpland, indeed by the man himself, is that he’s made fatherhood great again. The word’s gone out to staff, to every pro-Trump talking head on every show and seeped into almost every speech.

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And they are deeply involved at every stage of the campaign. Convention planners clearly came up short on close friends or other surrogates to testify to Trump's worthiness -- college classmates, fellow New York developers, bankers, builders, mayors from Las Vegas or Atlantic City. Thus the four older Trump offspring each got prime time spots to offer living proof that he’s a great man.

Even Indiana Governor Mike Pence, Trump's running mate, got with the program, using his debut at the convention, to exclaim, “You can’t fake great kids.”

There are a couple things wrong with this. First, the claim suggests that Trump’s been faking other things. Secondly, it’s not true and every parent knows it. I only had to kick my daughter under the table to restore her to a semblance of greatness when she faltered. It still works and I would be delighted to be measured for a promotion by just how great she is.

Third, we all know good people who have bad children and vice versa. Apparently, Trump’s son-in-law and putative campaign manager, Jared Kushner, is one of those: His father, a New Jersey real estate developer, was sent to jail for tax evasion, witness tampering and illegal campaign contributions. Julie Nixon, the daughter of one of our worst presidents, married to David Eisenhower, is an exemplary citizen. Spiro Agnew was a wily fellow, but he didn’t think to shore up Nixon’s character (or his own) by virtue of the president’s offspring.

If the child index were such a pertinent and consistent measurement of one’s worth, Trump should give props to the mother of Chelsea Clinton rather than revel in chants of “Lock Her Up.”

This is not to quibble over how great the Trump kids are. They’re just fine, and more so because a single Manhattan billionaire dad is like military music or jumbo shrimp, more often seen in print than experienced. The four Trumps made it to adulthood without being kicked out of school, going into rehab, or marrying a Kardashian. They didn’t plagiarize their speeches (Don Jr.’s speechwriter plagiarized himself). Ivanka is the apple of her father’s eye, the most important voice in his most important decision of choosing a vice president, and beautiful. He once told an interviewer that he would date her if it weren’t illegal. She is a chip off the old block, using her speech to push her father’s presidential bid and her own clothing line. So many viewers said yes to the dress she was modeling on the convention stage that it sold out. Bravo, all.

Before this campaign, bachelor, model-trolling Trump bragged about how little time he spent with his children. Diapers? No way. “I won’t do anything” to take care of the children, he told Howard Stern in 2005 about Ivanka, Donald and Eric, his children with his first wife, Ivana. “I’ll supply funds and she’ll take care of the kids.”  

Not only is he not a homebody, he’s not a body much at home. The years that could have been devoted to child-rearing  were his prime clubbing years. Trump celebrated his swinging image to the point of impersonating his own p.r. man phoning in his own spottings to the tabloids should they have missed something. In his books, he’s proud of his success with models and never spending a night at home.

In Trump’s bitter divorce from Ivana, wife No. 1, (while he was having an affair with his second), he reportedly neither fought for custody of the children nor got it. Every bit was chronicled in the tabloids, which his three children read and wept over, according to Marie Brenner in Vanity Fair. He became a weekend father, though one who wasn’t much there on the weekends. Look at the family pictures. He’s with the children either in a tux at an opening or in a baseball cap with them at a sporting event. I hereby offer my tickets to the inauguration to anyone who has a photo of him roughhousing on the floor, building a sandcastle or walking a child to school. We will see Trump’s tax returns before we’ll see the report cards Tiffany spoke of with handwritten notes from Dad in the margin.

Joining your father in the family business is a career choice, an automatic leg-up many kids choose. It doesn’t say Dad was around when you couldn’t tell an adjustable mortgage from a fixed one.  

The “raised great kids” is part of the arsenal the campaign deploys to deflect arguments over whether Trump has a mean streak, says outrageous things or actually was a big success as a real estate developer, “university” president, casino man or designer of golf courses.  

Trump claims credit for so many things he didn’t do. The “raising” is just another hustle. But fact-checking this one is fairly easy to do: Just go back through his escapades in New York, when he didn’t give a thought about how his public humiliation of their mother and his nighttime antics would affect his children. He didn’t put them  first then, anymore than he’s putting America first now. Trump then and Trump now is always Trump first.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Margaret Carlson at mcarlson3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Max Berley at mberley@bloomberg.net